Have you ever had a dream of flying through the air and dunking basketball? Jumping so high to spike a volleyball that after your match everyone cannot stop talking about it? You wake up incredibly inspired to achieve this dream only to realize that you have no idea what to do to make it a reality!
Don’t worry we got you covered!
This article will give you 18 ways to increase your vertical and begin the process of jumping higher. We start off with the technique of jumping and continuing through important aspects of increasing a vertical like: building strength, plyometric training, mobility, mindset, and some fundamentals of training.
How my passion for this topic began….
Growing up I was fascinated with dunking. My two older brothers and I would watch NBA dunk videos way more than anyone should.
We would spend hours with my cousins playing tree basketball and of course dunking on a branch. Soon enough my parents got us an adjustable basketball hoop and that turned out to be the source of many heated dunk hoop games.
As time passed, dunking on a lowered hoop did not provide the thrill it once did.
Dunking on a ten foot hoop was the next goal!
I knew I wasn’t going to be 6’ 6” so the thing I had to do was increase my jumping ability.
When you don’t know what to do you try anything and everything to reach your goal.
The first thing we did was calf raises, we were convinced that big strong calves were the secret of all great jumpers. We did thousands of calf raises! We soon realized this did not add 6 inches to our verts and some of the best jumpers in the world did not have big calves. So we put 2 and 2 together.
Our next thought was that we need to get more flexible! At that time touching my toes seemed impossible. We worked on that for months with little to no improvement in our flexibility and our verticals stayed the same.
Air Alert – Plyometric Program
I do not know how we stumbled upon this program but man, was it hard! I remember my older brother getting his hands on it, and we followed it to the T. I still remember doing squat jumps to the points of complete exhaustion, (definitely wasn’t quality work). We did this program and saw some decent results. Looking back there were some great principles that got us headed in the right direction.
Up Next was Strength Shoes…
For anyone who does not know what strength shoes are (also known as Jump soles):
I have to give a shout out to Cory Wiscom, the godfather of the strength shoe workout! I think I got 2” on my vert just by putting these on (that’s how sweet they look). They were expensive but when you want something bad enough you make sacrifices. We had a small group that went through the 3 day a week program for 3 months and did not miss a single day. Side Note: Consistency in training might be the single biggest factor in getting results you want!
During this time period I got my first dunk on a 10’ hoop!
The results I got during the strength shoe workout were amazing. The only problem was I can’t attribute all of my gains to strength shoes because I did not control other variables. During the time of the strength shoe workout I was also lifting weights, continuing working on flexibility, and going through natural maturation.
As I look back on my journey through the lens of exercise science and abundantly more training experience, I will share what my program should have looked like and how you can be much more efficient in increasing your vertical dramatically!
Technique of jumping
The goal of this article is to give young athletes the direct route to finding their full potential in jumping and not relying on trial and error, or worse, never learn them at all.
Another way to talk about optimal jumping technique is to discuss biomechanical position to achieve the highest rate of force production. It is not enough to just produce force, you have to produce it very quickly. If I can squat 1000 pounds but it takes me 3 seconds to produce the force, what good is that? If you want a higher vertical you have to produce the force quickly, in .5 seconds or less. Technique in jumping is giving your body the best chance to produce force quickly and there is an optimal way of doing that.
Technique doesn’t stop at just getting into a position to produce a high rate of force production. If you can’t contain that force and you bleed it out because your body position isn’t efficient at transferring power, then you are cutting yourself short of your potential. We want to capture that force like the combustion in the barrel of a gun.
Ok, so lets say your rate of force production is off the charts but you can’t contain it, you may only get 75% of that energy pushing your body up in the right direction! In order to be optimal and efficient with the force you generate off the ground, pay attention to the following:
- Creating spinal alignment and a solid trunk (real core): An aligned, strong, and rigid core is needed to transfer that energy produced from the ground. If you are have an underdeveloped core and have never spend any time working on it, this can be quick way to add height to your jump. At OC Fast-Twitch our favorite way to train the core is through anti-movement exercises. Basically anything that pulls you off midline axis and you have to work to keep a neutral spine.
- Knees and feet inline: Power travels best in straight lines. When toes are pointed out and knees dive in, we have force traveling in multiple directions. The rotation at the knee puts extra stress on the knee ligaments unnecessarily leading to injury. Stay in alignment!
- Full hip extension: Many times athletes will not fully extend at the hip when jumping leaving force that is generated by the glutes and hamstrings unused. Having tight hip flexors will make it difficult for your hips to reach optimal extension. You will be fighting yourself. The glutes will be contracting, which is the way of creating extension at the hip, but a short hip flexor will create resistance for the extension. To see how much tight hip flexors affect a vertical jump do a little test: Test your vertical jump and then before your next attempt spend one minute static stretching your hip flexors. I bet you touch at least a inch higher.
- Inter-muscle coordination: This is when we have multiple muscles working together to create one force. Everyone has experienced a tug-of-war match when the whole team pulls the rope at one time creating a powerful and violent action. If you could think of all the muscles used when performing a jump as the individual members of the tug-of-war team, we need to practice the coordination of all the muscles working together. Compound movements are movements that require multiple joints. Compound lifts are great ways to help develop inter-muscle coordination. As you progress with your training age, olympic lifts are a little more advanced way of practicing Inter-muscle coordination. Just practicing the jumping movement and reaching extension at the ankle, knee, and hip at the same time will benefit you greatly.
- The Counter Jump: The counter jump is also known as the descent or the loading of the jump. The goal of this is to be as aggressive as possible with the counter jump arm swing. You want to create as much speed as possible on the way down. Once you hit the proper depth when loading a jump the goal is to have as fast as possible transition to begin the ascent. Having a fast transition will capture all of the stored energy in the connective tissue. On the way up I like to tell my athletes that they need to picture throwing their hands through the ceiling! I find that the countermovement of the jump is done poorly in 9/10 athletes I work with. The more aggressive, violent, and fast the counter jump is the more production you get out of the stretch shortening cycle.
The technique of jumping is something that can be started at any age. Everyone knows how hard it is to break a bad habit, so the best thing we can do for our kids is to teach them good movement patterns when they are young so that it is second nature to them. With that said, I do think you can make corrections to bad movement and jumping technique at any age. It will just take a little more consistency and discipline. Continue refinement of correct jumping mechanics should always have a place in your training program.
The next area of focus would be developing an acceptable baseline level of full body strength. Developing foundational strength is essential for the following reasons: stability, force production, and body composition.
- Stability: If you want to jump high you not only have to know how to jump (technique) and practice it so you can replicate that movement pattern over and over again but you need to have the muscle and strength that can hold your body in the right alignment. Developing strength through a controlled level of resistance will help create stability in the body.
- Force Production: Strength must come first because without it there would be no force produced against the ground. Newton’s third law tells us that “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”, if we want the ground to produce a force up on us we must first apply a force on the ground. Developing strength is a fundamental part of force production and must be done.
- Body Composition: Lifting weights not only will make you stronger but is the best way to improve body composition. The two main reasons why building muscle will lead to fat loss and a better muscle to fat ratio are, improved insulin sensitivity and a higher resting metabolic rate (RMR).
Insulin sensitivity – The more insulin sensitive you are is the better your body is at keeping your blood sugar low. In other words it takes less of the hormone insulin to deal with blood sugar. Unnecessary high levels of blood sugar inhibit the use of body fat as fuel or worse add more body fat.
Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) – When the body is at rest it requires a certain amount of calories to keep itself running. The more muscle you have the more calories are burned at rest. It is estimated that for each pound of muscle added it burns an extra 50 more calories per day. Independent of any exercise you may do. It is also known as “afterburn”.
I want a higher vert – why does this matter to me?
The better your body composition, the more your relative strength improves. If I am consistently strength training and I am able to apply more force but my body weight increase at the same rate, I will not improve my vertical jump. You have to get rid of the fat. That is why relative strength matters. A great measure of relative strength is the pull up.
Stretch Shortening Cycle- Plyos
Plyometric training is a high intensity way of training for peak power (speed x strength). They are meant to teach you to apply maximal force in minimal time. Plyos are one of the single best ways to increase your vertical and there is a lot of evidence for that. The speed and explosive nature of plyometric training does lead to a higher risk for injury if not done correctly or before an athlete is ready. In my opinion there needs to be strict movement, strength, and stability requirements in order to launch into a full scale plyo training regiment. The benefits are undeniable if done correctly but unfortunately many do not perform plyos right. Here are some areas that are of high importance to do them right and get your vert up!
9.) Right exercise prescription – Just like traditional weight training, there needs to be a proper progression in plyo training. It is important to adhere to the principle of training economy when prescribing plyometric exercises. The best way that I can explain this is to point out that you wouldn’t kill a fly with grenade when you could use a fly swatter! Start simple and slowly add complexity.
10.) Amortization period and optimizing stored energy – One of the main ways that I see plyos being performed poorly is the lack of emphasis placed on the contact time and intent of force into the ground. A key component of plyometric training is tapping into the use of stored energy in your connective tissues. Independent of the force that is created by contracting your muscle used when jumping is the potential of force found in the connective tissue of your lower legs. For example, if I perform a vertical jump as high as I can from an upright position as you would naturally with a quick dip and followed by an explosive movement up vs. jumping from a fixed quarter squat position most people are going to jump high with the dip in the movement. This is an example of how the stretch reflex of the stored energy can aid in the jump. The amortization period for the jump is at the bottom of the dip before you transition upwards. If the time spent at the bottom of the jump is too slow you will lose the stored energy, meaning it will not be applied to your vertical. Not good! In order to optimize the stored energy in your connective tissue you need to have a fast amortization period. A practical way to make this happen is to focus on contact time and thinking about punching the ground on contact.
11.) Strengthening connective tissue to have more firmness: The ability to create tension in your muscle and tendons is a skill that all great jumpers have. Creating tension and firmness allows for a greater potential of stored energy to be applied to the ground. A much simpler way of thinking about the importance of connective tissue, is to ask the question would a thick, strong, elastic rubber band or a smaller less rigid rubber band produce a greater force? I think common sense would tell you that a thick, stronger, elastic rubber band would have greater potential to create a more powerful snap. How do I get thick, strong, elastic rubber band like tendons and ligaments? The simple answer is by lifting weights and doing plyos. Basic physiology says that providing the body with a stimulus that is new or different will produce a adaptation.You can remember this by using SAID principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. The secret to getting these results is consistently imposing demands.
12.) Intermuscular coordination: I mentioned earlier what intermuscular coordination is and why it matters (example of tug-of-war) but I didn’t give you ways that you can practice and perfect this important athletic mechanism. One of the best ways to increase your power through intermuscular coordination is to do plyos. When performing plyometric exercise there is a lot of degrees of freedom in the movement, that is why they can be an advanced area of exercise. When you have many muscles firing at different times and not in harmony you get an unathletic looking movement. How many unathletic people have you seen with killer vert?! The better athletes coordinate the use of multiple muscles for one common goal of producing a force into the ground, leading to a higher vert!
13.) Rate of Force development: I touched on this earlier but wanted to emphasize that RFD is the name of the game. It is not all about who has the most force but who can produce the most force, the fastest. Plyometric training is an incredible way at improving this ability if done correctly. The problem is that too many people forget that when training for the highest rate of force you can not perform the exercises fatigued. All too often I see people doing jumps way to tired. Make sure to rest between sets!
14.) Don’t let your muscle get in the way! – Antagonist and agonist muscles are often paired up on opposite sides of a bone and are called antagonistic pairs. When one muscle contracts, the other relaxes. When jumping, hip extension occurs and the antagonistic muscles – Psoas, iliacus, tensor fascia latae (TFL), rectus femoris, anterior adductors (especially pectineus), sartorius must relax and lengthen. I have seen many athletes literally fight themselves because of the tightness and inability to relax the antagonist properly. So, the take home is work on your hip/quad mobility to make sure that this is not you!
Most important aspects of training:
15.) Consistency – I have seen hundreds of athletes and those that reach their goals have one main thing in common, consistency in training! You must play the long game. All too often I see athletes put in a couple months of hard training and then get sporadic with attendance or stop altogether. After a month off of training they will come back and say “ I’m ready coach”! “This time I mean it”! You see this in the dieting world as well. A highly motivated individual starts of strong and lose some weight and then a cheat here and there and before you know it they are worse off then when they started. Build a foundation of consistency starting with simple concepts and foundational training principles.
16.) Effort (you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink) – Showing up is key and if you love your sport this shouldn’t be a problem. Now you need to go to work! You could have the best training plan of all time (much like this one 😉 ) and if the buy in isn’t there you can forget about results. There must be complete buy in to the process. If you do not continually provide your body with a new or different stimulus it will have nothing to adapt to. Hard work can’t replace it.
17.) Recovery – If I told you to rub your hands with sand paper until they were bloodied up and then had you come back the next day to do it again, would your hands stay bloody? Yes. If I kept having you come back day after day and had you do this to your hands would your hand continue to be bloody? Yes. Now, if I told you to rub your hands with sand paper till they were bloody and then wrap them up and take care of them till they had formed new skin, then had you do it again, over time your skin would become thicker and thicker to withstand the damage. Can you see why recovery matters?!
18.) Objective feedback – I always say to my athletes that objective feedback is your best friend. Great friends don’t lie to you, they are honest with you, just like objective feedback. Almost everything is measurable and it is important to document all aspects of your training especially your vertical!
Summary: I have countless athletes come to me asking me “How high do you think I will improve my vert”? “What is the best exercise”? “Do you think I will be able to dunk in 3 months”? Honestly, I do not have all of those answers and nobody else does either because genetically everyone is a little different. I will say that there are no shortcut but you will not be disappointed if you put the work in. I have read countless hours of research and trained many athletes, these principles are tried and true. Let me know how much your vert increases!